Sean Hughes 11/10/1965-10/16/2017

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Gifted Irish comic, standup, writer, actor, novelist and poet Sean Hughes has died, much, much too soon. Rest in peace.

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Tom Petty 10/20/1950-10/02/2017

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Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down
No, I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down
(I won’t back down)
Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down
Well I know what’s right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground
And I won’t back down
(I won’t back down)
Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I

Tobe Hooper 01/25/1943-08/26/2017

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Tobe Hooper movies were a part of my growing up:  Salem’s Lot was on TV when I was a kid and I cycled home on a dark and stormy night from my friend’s place faster than the Wicked Witch of the West. It was the scariest thing I had ever seen. I still can’t sit through it for more than a few minutes. Not long after that we were taken to the big city with her college-age siblings who took us to the kinda thing no kid should see – that late night horror flick, The Funhouse. I could not remember a thing about it afterwards I had closed my eyes so frequently. Carnivals were never quite the same attraction for me after that experience. My friend’s brothers jumping at us from lamp posts right after it didn’t help. And then there was Poltergeist, produced by Steven Spielberg. It’s a pretty perfect film with just the right amount of terror in suburbia cushioned by the conventions of family life to make you think, That’ll never happen in my neighbourhood. And that was part of the point of the Hooper signature – the terror lurking in the ordinary, the slow build to unrelenting fear, the calm before the release of Grand Guignol-style horrors that are never far beneath the surface. There were rumours Spielberg himself had directed Poltergeist but a shot-by-shot analysis disproves that theory. Of course I had to be over 18 to rent Texas Chainsaw Massacre which pre-dated Hooper’s advance on the mainstream by several years. Growing up on the edge of the countryside made me nervous anyhow but the sound of chainsaws sends me back to that particular brand of cannibalism in perpetuity. Horrifying. Awesomely so. Those guys spawned their own progeny – well inbreeding is kind of a rural preoccupation, ain’t it?! Hooper took a producer role on the sequels. The Cannon films – Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars – were of course more normalised 80s-style horror/sci fi but I liked the latter enormously. It was beautifully made and sent me back to the original.  He may have fallen off my particular charts aside from his TV episodes and movies, in an industry that became dispersed and driven more by quickly made video releases but those crucial early films with their stunningly controlled worlds which seemed rather closely related to my own lived reality make him a legend. RIP.

Jerry Lewis 03/16/1926-08/20/2017

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The great American comic Jerry Lewis has died. One half of a famed partnership with crooner Dean Martin, in which he played an idiot to the smarter singer, he was a star of TV and radio before they conquered feature films. After working with Frank Tashlin it seemed Lewis found a desire to make films himself. Janet Leigh speaks about the fun weekends she spent at his home shooting slapstick shorts – he would of course become a famed auteur, making very formally dynamic comedies with himself as the star. The greatest of these is probably The Nutty Professor in which he apparently sends up Dino’s image as cooler-than-thou hep singer Buddy Love. In other works like The Bell Boy he creates astonishing tableaux of the kind beloved of the French director and comic Jacques Tati. He would come a cropper with The Day The Clown Cried, a Holocaust film too far which was buried by the studio (he reputedly owned the sole remaining print) but the French embraced him and he even starred in a couple of films in France in the 80s. That was the period when the American audience embraced him again as he starred for Scorsese in The King of Comedy, where he seemed to channel a part of himself that was not visible in his annual charity telethons. His appearances in supporting roles in films like Funny Bones kept him on the big screen but he more or less retired in 1995 until some very recent roles. His persona is indelibly connected with midcentury cinema but his career as director-star is something special. Rest in peace, Jerry, we shall not see your like again.

John Heard 03/07/1945-07/21/2017

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The death has taken place of one of my favourite actors. Apparently he died a few days after having back surgery while recuperating at a hotel in CA. I first saw him and became immediately besotted as a young kid one long ago Valentine’s Day when a film called  Between the Lines was on TV. It was about a bunch of supposed subversives working on an underground newspaper. On the one hand it appealed to my youthful and romantic sense of rebellion. Hell it was a Seventies movie!  On the other? I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Nor could writer/director Joan Micklin Silver, who then cast him again as the lead in her romantic comedy drama Head Over Heels aka Chilly Scenes of Winter – a movie that I didn’t see literally for decades because it never got to the small town where I grew up. In between he had worked for her husband Raphael in a prison movie called On the Yard which I saw many years ago, somehow, somewhere. As well as a TV mini-series adapted from The Scarlet Letter. I didn’t blame Meg Foster for doing what she did, not even a bit.  He was terrific as Jack Kerouac in Heart Beat but I didn’t see that for many years. However it was then I stumbled across the most amazing film of the Eighties after I found a book called Cutter and Bone which is still a beautiful piece of writing about California and corruption and Vietnam and PTSD.  I read it straight through without sleeping once I accidentally found out – book in hand – that my local cinema had the adaptation opening that weekend under the title Cutter’s Way. I saw it the evening I finished the book – I still can’t see a movie if it’s an adaptation without reading the book beforehand – and believed my earlier judgment of the actor to be on the money. And I still believe it. Heard is simply astonishing in a truly great film. He’s a one-eyed impotent crippled Nam vet who has the opportunity to right a wrong. He was working opposite Jeff Bridges and the heartbreaking Lisa Eichhorn. Everyone did their best work right there. He never really fulfilled that early promise and admitted as much in a late interview. He probably never got offered a role to equal it again. He wasn’t ‘seen’ in the right way by the right writer or director, maybe. Although he worked with some good people maybe the chemistry wasn’t right.  Or, he dropped the ball, as he said. Who knows why. Great films are miracles. A trained stage actor, he never ‘got’ Hollywood but he took roles that earned him huge audiences – Home Alone and its sequel being the prime example. It doesn’t matter. Cutter’s Way is one of my very favourite films. Make it one of yours. You only have to be great in one great film to be truly remembered. Vaya con dios, John.

Elsa Martinelli 01/30/1935-07/08/2017

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One of my favourite women has died. Elsa Martinelli was one of cinema’s real cool girls. Born Elisa Tia in Tuscany, she became a model at a very young age and was spotted by French director Claude Autant-Lara after she had a small role in an Italian anthology film and within a couple of years she did that rite of passage for all italian beauties – a rice film (Mangano and Loren did one too.) Kirk Douglas – who had a taste for fresh flesh – took her to Hollywood for The Indian Fighter but it wasn’t until she played Georgia in Roger Vadim’s perversely wonderful Blood and Roses (1960) (a 20th century update of le Fanu’s Carmilla) that she gained real star status. She had already done amazing work in Mauro Bolognini’s La notte brava (written by Pasolini) so she was by now an auteur favourite.   She played opposite Anthony Perkins in Orson Welles’ underrated interpretation of The Trial (1962) which he shot in Paris and then sent up her own image as Gloria Gritti in The VIPs (1963) – with Welles as the movie mogul to her petulant movie star. Then of course she was the fabulous Dallas in Hatari! (1963) a film that really exhibited her particular brand of Euro cool and of course that haircut framing such a defiantly modern look and determinedly independent character. Never mind that she wound up with John Wayne – just think of all those baby elephants!  That’s one of my desert island movies for sure. That look was what made me pay attention to her as a kid when I spotted her in the extremely bizarre and super fashionable Sixties crime movie Maroc 7 (1967) which was on TV now and then.  She was already out of her troubled marriage into the Roman aristocracy that had produced a daughter and she eventually married the brilliant photographer Willy Rizzo. She also became one of those weird Sixties hybrids – the actor-singer (there were a few of them, like Bardot and Birkin) and if you want to hear some truly mournful and striking chansons you can check her out on YouTube which has some of her TV recordings. She made a really great impression in The Belle Starr Story (1968), a rare western directed by a woman, Lina Wertmuller (who had to make it under a male pseudonym) and continued to appear opposite top Hollywood stars like Dustin Hoffman and even Raquel Welch! In between supporting roles and cameos in Hollywood travelogue comedy movies like If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium and her final screen appearance Once Upon a Crime where she has a small cameo, she was a definite part of the fabled jet set and there are many snaps of her partying with people like Ari Onassis. Latterly she was in a number of TV series, both German and Italian, with her last role in Orgoglio, a period romance which ran for a few years in Italy with Martinelli participating in 2005. Rizzo predeceased her four years ago and she was living in Rome at the time of her death. What a wonderful woman she was.